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Speaking to yourself in the third person makes you wiser (aeon.co)
589 points by prostoalex on Aug 11, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 204 comments

Related anecdote: I've always found that I'm able to make clearer judgments about situations, when someone else is going through them. It's much harder when I'm the subject of the story.

I guess the difference is that your mental context is so much more developed when you're thinking about yourself (not in the 3rd person). You have skin in the game, maybe it's that you're worried about the outcome of the situation, or it's just stressing you out, or you're thinking about how it will affect your friends/family/the rest of your life. So when you view it from an outsider's perspective, and throw away all that mental "noise", you have a clearer head and can make better decisions with the long-term in mind.

Alternatively, if you're going through something, you could try imagining someone else in the same situation (make up someone if you have to) -- What advice would you give to them? Then use that advice for yourself.

Definitely agree. A couple of mental models I sometimes adopt to look at my situation more objectively:

* Thinking about what I would do as a parent if my child was in the same situation as I am

* View myself as a video game character (in the 3rd person, looking from above), and thinking about what I would do if I was controlling this character in a game with the same rules as life

Those are fantastic little self-hacks - thank you for sharing.

Currently looking down on myself and my advice to my games avatar is stop using HN and go to bed.

I do a slightly different version of it. Where I imagine how someone I deeply admire would advise me in this situation. This kind of detachment allows me to say hard stuff to myself.

I'm pretty reckless in video games...

Still, both are good ways to reframe things though.

This is actually a great example of transference and is a fantastic tool for understanding yourself in a deeper way.

In many ways, the advice you are giving is a means of your own subconscious communicating with your conscious awareness. If you really pay attention to the advice you give/the way the person's own situation makes you feel, it also gives you a greater awareness of your own thoughts and feelings towards your own situation and unresolved issues.

Vice versa, the advice that others give to you offers a view into their inner conflicts, baggage, etc. It is a fascinating phenomenon.

What an interesting reconfiguration -- or extension? -- of the Golden Rule: "Do unto yourself as you would do unto others."

Or maybe something more modern:

"Act as you'd have others act." "Do what you'd have others do."

Edit: Or the slightly less generous, "Do as you'd have another do."

I wrote my memoir in the third person for just this reason.

When faced with a difficult problem one trick is to ask how you would view your choice in hindsight a year later. I use that technique a lot and find it helpful. It seems as if there are many ways to attain objectivity about decisions, which casts doubt on the notion that illeism has any special magic.

Moreover, the argument that speaking in 3rd person made at least Caesar wiser seems doubtful. Caesar's writings are historically interesting but also considered artful propaganda hidden under apparently plain speech. [1] There's no particular reason to infer that Caesar used this device otherwise. As transmitted by Sallust, he referred directly to himself ("magna mihi copia est memorandi..."--"I find ample opportunity to mention...") when arguing against hastily putting conspirators of Cataline to death. [2]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commentarii_de_Bello_Gallico#M...

[2] http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/L/Roman/Texts/Sallust/Be...

100% agree, but as I get older, it's getting easier to put myself outside of the situation and think rationally. In my 20's and 30's, forget it. It was hard. 40's was hard, but easier. In my 50's, I've really hitting the sweet spot for us.

I've often wondered if I am unique in this, or whether other people follow the same pattern at the same age as me.


> At fifteen my heart was set on learning; at thirty I stood firm; at forty I had no more doubts; at fifty I knew the mandate of heaven; at sixty my ear was obedient; at seventy I could follow my heart’s desire without transgressing the norm.

One I have found helpful in a professional context is to think "If I were fired today, what would my replacement do about this?"

Sometimes, though, the answer is "run screaming out the front door and never be seen again. :P

You have to ask yourself those questions sometimes.

Staying in a toxic workplace because you have a mortgage, debts or a family to support could seem to an outsider like you've slipped into a Stockholm Syndrome-like mindset where you just don't want to think about it.

I wonder how many of us would do exactly that if we felt it was an option.

Are you a generally nice person? Then be nice and empathetic to your future self.

Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.

Imagine someone you love and treat well. You need to treat yourself with the same respect. Take care of yourself, your room, your things, and have respect for yourself as if you’re a person with potential and is important to the people around you. -Jordan Peterson

Specially when it’s an emotional decision. Should I break up with do and so? Your friends might know the answer and told you the answer, but often times it’s difficult for us to see the answer ourselves.

Generally the same blind spots that get us into difficulties prevent us from seeing our way out of them, which is why most of the mistakes we see others making seem so trivial.

Letting go of my attachment to things troubling me helps. Sort of like stepping out of seeing things from my perspective and just as they are, as objectively as possible. I’m not perfect, but there are times where I did that and it helped.

An important caveat for Psychology studies is to ask, "If the participants are told exactly what is being measured, do the results stay the same?" If the answer is "No" you should question the validity of the study.

Here for example, if you tell people that "intellectual humility; taking the perspective of others; recognising uncertainty; and having the capacity to search for a compromise." all lead to "emotional wellbeing, and relationship satisfaction" just prior to taking the test, would that effect size be similar to intentionally omitting that information and having people journal for four weeks?

As far as I can tell there was no informed control cohort in this study.

A lot of psychological studies measure effects invisible to the participants, often masking the real experiment as a technicality of a fake experiment that the participants know about.

It is well-known that "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

> often masking the real experiment as a technicality of a fake experiment that the participants know about

That’s a common trope, but as far as I understand, based on discussions with friends who are in the domain, studies based on deception will in general be blocked by ethic committees (at least in Germany).

Don’t quote me though, I’m not in psychology myself, and may not know what I’m talking about here :)

Based on what my friend (who is running a small psychology study) told me, non harmful deception is allowed so long as you explain the deception in the debriefing of your experiment. This is in the US.

Can confirm, as someone who has been a voluntary subject a couple times. But it's kind of weird, because deceptive design is so typical that I find myself speculating what the real study is while being studied.

> I find myself speculating what the real study is while being studied.

Faire point. I’m wondering how much studies are impacted by that in reality. Is there a known way to kind of estimate/mesure?

Deception in various forms was incredibly common in U.S. studies when I was majoring in psych. Even if you didn't say anything like "We're studying weight loss" when actually you were studying anxiety, you might just not talk much about what the study is about while including tasks that lead people to naturally think the study is about X when really it's about Y.

> "If the participants are told exactly what is being measured, do the results stay the same?" If the answer is "No" you should question the validity of the study.

What is your basis for your assertion? This does not match with what I understand about experimental design.

Except that merely being aware of one of your own processes can definitely alter it. If you think about your blink rate, for example.

I wonder how often this happens in Psychology studies.

Psychology, currently, isn't in a good position regarding repeatability for most of its studies.

The results from this study are interesting but I am even more interested in the definitions of wisdom. I've been ruminating lately on the difference between knowledge (narrowly defined as a set of facts) vs experience. The most tortured analogy would be someone who has spent a lifetime reading books about swimming vs. a person who has spent all of their life swimming in pools/rivers/lakes. I realize this a non-standard and narrow definition of knowledge but I hope it is possible to bear with me since I can't think of a suitable synonym to separate phenomenological experience from book learning.

It does seem that our conceptions of intelligence are related to facts/knowledge more so than experiences. Intelligence appears to be a facility to collect, organize, analyze and draw conclusions from a set of facts. In that purely analytic view of intelligence, knowledge is highly prized. However it seems to me wisdom is more closely associated with lived experience. For certain, there does seem to be a rough distinction between someone we consider "knowledgeable", someone we consider "intelligent", and someone we consider "wise".

This supposes there is some aspect of phenomenological experience that is inherently different than the collection of facts and further some aspect of cognition separate from the organization and analyzation of facts. I am very interested in the sorts of things that separate my previous distinctions: knowledgeable, intelligent, wise. Could we realize a Turing-like test for wisdom?

Knowledge is a set of facts.

Wisdom is knowledge about which facts are useful in which circumstances for deriving new facts which are useful in said circumstance.

In other words wisdom is the ability to use facts to a good purpose.

>Knowledge is a set of facts.

This view, very common in the 20th C and beyond, is exposed and (I think) demolished in Oakeshott's essay Rationalism in Politics[0]. The rationalism he's talking about (which he says almost all political parties in the West nowadays espouse) is precisely believing that knowledge is a set of facts. That all knowledge can be written down in bullet points, and taught.

Yet most knowledge cannot be. If I know how to ride a bike, to play a musical instrument, to do any complex activity well, most of what I know cannot be put and wasn't learned in such a form. It's "know-how", practical knowledge, distinct from the kind that can be put into words, "know-that".

Let Oakeshott speak for himself a little:

"The second sort of knowledge I will call practical, because it exists only in use, is not reflective and (unlike technique) cannot be formulated in rules. This does not mean, however, that it is an esoteric sort of knowledge. It means only that the method by which it may be shared and becomes common knowledge is not the method of formulated doctrine. And if we consider it from this point of view, it would not, I think, be misleading to speak of it as traditional knowledge. In every activity this sort of knowledge is also involved; the mastery of any skill, the pursuit of any concrete activity is impossible without it. These two sorts of knowledge, then, distinguishable but insep­arable, are the twin components of the knowledge involved in every concrete human activity. In a practical art, such as cookery, nobody supposes that the knowledge that belongs to the good cook is con­fined to what is or may be written down in the cookery book; tech­nique and what I have called practical knowledge combine to make skill in cookery wherever it exists. And the same is true of the fine arts, of painting, of music, of poetry; a high degree of technical knowledge, even where it is both subtle and ready, is one thing; the ability to create a work of art, the ability to compose something with real musical qualities, the ability to write a great sonnet, is another, and requires, in addition to technique, this other sort of knowledge.

Again, these two sorts of knowledge are involved in any genuinely scientific activity. The natural scientist will certainly make use of the rules of observation and verification that belong to his tech­nique, but these rules remain only one of the components of his knowledge; advance in scientific discovery was never achieved merely by following the rules..."

[0] 1962. It's very readable, everyone should read it. It was embarrassing how much I learned from it. I even learned a lot about teaching music from it.

I think this viewpoint too much anthropocentric. Of course knowledge about riding a bike or doing a backflip can be accurately described in bullet points in terms of physics, it's just that people are not equipped to accurately follow those instructions, so we resort to trial and error.

If a futuristic robot was given the bullet points to ride a bicycle, and it had full knowledge of its body, it should succeed on the first try.

I wouldn't call the skill to ride a bike "knowledge" even though English does conflate that which you know with that which you can do.

The reason I want to make the distinction explicit is that the conflation makes it easier for people to be confused about what they know; after all, they would "know" how to ride a bike, right? Yet, most people would probably be stumped (at least for a while) if you asked them what it actually takes to ride a bike.

You can be very skilled at something without having all that much knowledge about what you're doing.

Correct, I think. We don't really "know" much about how to ride a bike because we can't really explain it or teach to others by explaining it. It is a skill, not knowledge.

Of course, words only mean what we intend them to mean. But we are striving to arrive at definitions of concepts which most people can readily agree on.

Well, you and the GP might find it interesting to read Rationalism in Politics, where what you see as just correct and reality, he describes as a recent error/insanity that's infected the world. (I really can't do his argument justice here.)

I view wisdom as "ability to choose goals" while intelligence is "ability to achieve goals".

Examples: It is unwise to prioritize short term if doing so hurts so in the long term. It is wise to work less if you don't use the extra money for anything important.

One of the definitions of wisdom that I've come to appreciate, similar to the article, is that "wisdom is taking your own advice." Upon reflection I've noticed that most of the time any advice that I give to others is tinged somewhat selfishly with advice to myself for a similar situation.

A definition that many HN readers are familiar with is at http://paulgraham.com/wisdom.html

D.A. Freccia: You're a pretty smart fella.

Joe Moore: Ah, not that smart.

D.A. Freccia: You're not that smart, how'd you figure it out?

Joe Moore: I tried to imagine a fella smarter than myself. Then I tried to think, "what would he do?"

-- Jim Frangione, Gene Hackman, Heist (2001 film)

This can be a real thing.

Sometimes our performance is less about our actual ability than it is about the role we're currently playing. Taking a different role can lead to stronger outcomes.

As a basketball and soccer coach, I've noticed the way that team mates will improve their game when the dominant player is missing for a game. After consideration, I've decided that there's a bit of a social component to how well they choose to play -- perhaps they hold back a bit to avoid messing with the pecking order.

Recently I've been experimenting with imagining myself stepping into the role of heroes of mine (my father and my step father, actually) while I lift heavy weights. It seems to help me let go of some of my restraints and lift harder.

I wonder if major league sports are aware about this effect? Is that why some of their star players have injuries so often? I don’t follow sports at all, but star players becoming injured is a news item that sort leaks into more general news to the point of being cliché.

Do star players get injured more than lesser players?

I would think that all athletes get injured pretty often, but people are just more aware of it when it's a star player.

Perceived frequency = incident frequency * report frequency

What's the random vs. nonrandom variable?

Thanks to you 'dredmorbius and 'brokenmachine for reminding me about perceived frequency. I was trying to get at whether or not the rest of the team starts playing harder when the players higher in the pecking order are way.

This reminds me of a question that comes up in roleplaying games: How to play a character with a higher intelligence/wisdom than your own? I.e., If I had 180 IQ, what would I do?

(The answer probably being: Not wander around in unexplored cave systems full of dangerous monsters.)

The most damaging advice I ever got in my life was to talk to myself.

I have always thought in mostly visual/symbolic terms. This made me really good with math early in my life, but it started failing when I began proof writing. Then I got the advice to "explain the problem to yourself and the solution will come naturally" from a friend who is really gifted at mathematical proofs. (And also later received similar advice in programming in the form of "rubber duck debugging").

Surprisingly, it works remarkably well and probably increased my problem solving skills tenfolds, or at least my ability to communicate the answer. I started using it for everything.

But it comes with the side effect of gaining a voice in your head. And that voice is a fucking vicious asshole to me. In the recent years the thoughts even started subvocalizing and I have to forcefully remember to make it stop. It's super embarrassing when there are other people around you.

I am sure this problem is unique to me because I have never heard someone describe it (other than partially matching symptoms of schizophrenia or tourette). But I am certain in my case when the voices started and I am not sure the superpower problem solving skills are worth the trade.

As person with a similarly vicious voice, part of the answer lies in cognitive behavioral therapy techniques - information is the enemy of hyper-criticism (usually, anyway).

The voice of your own critical judgment can be vicious, but if you're on board with that you're not, nor are you somehow supposed to be, some kind of rational Messiah with all the perfections and answers, but rather regular person doing their best, subject to the usual problems and issues that beset humans all the time, it's much easier to remind the voice, almost as if going one voice deeper - giving the hyper critical voice it's OWN voice - that it's being harsh to a standard that virtually no one has ever or will ever meet, that there are reason you or other did things the way they did (even if those reasons include "we didn't have time to research any other way, and the resources that would've made it possible or trivial like it feels now came about after we finished this.").

Anyway - basic idea here is to give you voice a voice and whip back around and overflow into the regular critical space where criticism can be healthy instead of incessant and damaging. I hope it works for you! It works fairly well for me, but I'll admit freely that sometimes I do feel like such a massive twat that BOTH voice roll their eyes at me. XD

+1. If you find it difficult to actually go to therapy, I'd also recommend the book 'Feeling Good'.

A negative voice is really just a bad habit that is hard to even see you have or that there's another way. It sort of just boils down to faking it for a while -- each time you criticize yourself, stop, think about why you are being way too critical and that it's not a really fair logical analysis, and speak to yourself kindly the same way you would to a friend. It feels super fake and pointless, but fake it for a while and all of a sudden you've developed a good habit instead that no longer feels so fake and actually works.

I’m not convinced that it is bad - at least, in moderation.

I am pathologically lazy. I, like a certain student wizard, will go to extreme lengths and effort to be able to be lazy.

I am a procrastinator. I am often afraid to act.

I have a tool, however, and it’s the drill sergeant in my head. He’s an absolute sonofabitch, and on so many occasions has been the voice that has told me to step forward, to pick up the phone, to pull myself together and go face the music. He’s an amped-up version of a drill sergeant I had, crossbred with the gunnery sergeant from FMJ.

He did, however, push me too damn far, and I found myself slowly falling apart from exhaustion and stress - so, like you suggest, I manifested another voice - this one more conciliatory, kinder, more understanding.

I made the second voice the drill sergeant’s wife - when he’s being a total dick, she intervenes, and importantly, he respects her opinion, even if I side with him - I have internalised a lot of his vim and vigour - but if he backs down, I’ll take it - if he doesn’t, then I’ll do as he damn well says.

So, now I’m the puppet of two self-invented alters, but I find they manage me pretty well. When I was building the business, just having sergeant dickhead was perfect - when I started running into the ground, I evolved my pantheon.

Anyway. I’m probably as mad as a bag of cats.

I wonder what proportion of people who do this had absent or disengaged parents.

Not mad. An I did not have absent or disengaged parents (although my voices are not parental figures).


I received a great piece of advice once. A person asked "If you had a child you loved that looked up to you that was struggling with something, would you be encouraging, patient and instructive to them or would be vicious, degrading, or abusive? --- Of course it would be the former. . . now treat yourself that way."

+1 for "Feeling Good". It is the book that kicked off CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and it gives you great perspective to seemingly simple questions like: what do most people feel, expect, and how to do they treat themselves? When I realized what a counterproductive jerk my inner voice was, I toned it down and it is far more productive now.

Long time fan of Dr Burns (Feeling Good, and his other books), but his mentioning of thoughts as voices reminded me of something I just started learning about: ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, another therapy which is newer) in which you are mindful of thoughts, images, and sensations, but instead of trying to get them to stop you use some mindfulness techniques such as taking the thought X and making it “I am having the thought X” in order to separate your observing mind vs your thinking mind, and other techniques like that. You then connect with your values and take effective action towards those goals despite what you were feeling or thinking, rather than struggling against them which causes more problems. Of course I can’t explain it in a paragraph either but I found a good video yesterday[1] or the self help book that’s good for that is “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris.

[1] https://youtu.be/Qv_etBsR_Ew

Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield calls this technique “naming” your thoughts, and I’ve found it to be remarkably effective.

I played varsity sports as a teenager, and the most helpful advice my coaches ever gave me was to control our inner voice to be positive. The best way to get out of a slump and back into "the zone" is to be positive and celebrate minor victories, since minor victories lead to more victories and eventually add up to major victories.

It sounds simple, but it's actually quite challenging to control inner discourse since you can't control your subconscious mind.

I totally agree. I am a person with strong internal dialogue, with a critical edge that is balanced between the criticized and criticized, and an underlying approach/attitude that "it's all good, don't worry, gonna be great".

Some people puke in their mouth to embrace positive loops in their head. They think it is so fake. But it works. And of course I'm lucky and grateful.

A back and forth of willing and continual self criticism and self-love, based on a deep self optimism -- that's an example of wisdom I'd hope to pass on to my kids.

Goodness no, this is much more common than you might think. My voice comes out when I'm trying to wrap my head around a tough problem, but it also comes out when I'm struggling to make a tough decision. There's nothing quite like an angry rant (while pacing about the house) to get the emotions out and clear the air, so that rational thought can eventually result in making the right choice.

I've never thought of this as particularly abnormal, it's sort of just how my thought process materializes. I find it easier to vocalize, and since I don't normally want to annoy my friends, I just talk to the voice, and occasionally entertain what the voice might say back. Obviously there is no voice and it's a figment, but it helps, and that's all that really matters.

Agreed. I thought this was how it is for everyone, not just myself.

You are not mentally ill. We have the ability to have more than one identity/ego in our heads. It's only a problem when it's damaging to you/your life.

You can also have no ego/identity, which is the holy grail of many religions/philosophies.

Lately some communities have formed around creating additional identities personified as fantastic beings they call tulpas. Some of the people there can even see/perceive those identities.

Managing our egos/identities is a very powerful tool.

Everyone's inner voice can be very vicious, as a lot of us (myself included) have internalized the outer critic (e.g. teachers, professors, parents, ...) into an inner critic to great success in some areas, such as our careers.

Perhaps practicing this habit (3rd-person self talk) so deliberately made this voice louder, but the way I dealt with this for myself was to journal. However, journaling is only possible if you use it as a CBT method. It can certainly make it worse if you use journaling to reinforce the negative internal vocalizations, a mistake I made for years when journaling.

I've had to ask coworkers "was I talking out loud or are my thoughts just very noisy?" when in the middle of some intense problem solving.

It's normal I guess, or at least not pathological. I don't really care when it happens, its just my thoughts 'overflowing'.

The self loathing/vicious character might be some function of your self-image? Like others have said, cognitive behavioural therapy might be beneficial for you. it's very legit and mainstream, why not give it a try?

This voice is the reason I can not longer enjoy marijuana or mushrooms anymore. It almost never bothers me in normal life, but when I partake, suddenly it gets loud and mean and refuses to shut up for hours. I used to really enjoy both drugs, but not if it's going to become a self-hating nightmare.

Dude, I’m the same way! Was there an event that caused this to start happening to you? I used to toke up all the time, but now it’s always an uncomfortable experience.

Not the person you're replying to, but I've also lost the ability to enjoy cannabis. I can trace it back to a nervous breakdown and major depressive episode I had in 2014. Since then, smoking weed has almost always had a dysphoric effect on me. It isn't routine paranoia but a visceral discomfort that no amount of self-awareness and mindfulness can shake. This might sound dumb, but it really feels like literal "bad vibes"... like the character of reality shifts toward malevolence.

My current theory is that (contrary to what you might think) weed reduces dissociation, making reality more "real", so to speak. Dissociation can be an important defense mechanism; by interfering with this mechanism, cannabis can lead to discomfort and dysphoria. If weed makes you feel bad, it may be the case that there's something wrong in your life that you're trying to ignore.

(From a neurochemical standpoint, I wonder if it has something to do with dopamine dysfunction. I'm not certain, but it seems like co-administration of stimulants can reduce this dysphoric effect. But I don't want to have to snort Adderall every time I smoke weed.)

It's also possible that I'm wrong, and that certain people just lose the ability to enjoy weed at some point in their life. That would be unfortunate.

Literally everything you said is exactly how I feel and describe my feelings about cannabis to people. However, I took 1-2 hits of my friend's wax pen last night and I had a great time. I did have a couple beers in me though. I think you're 100% right about weed making you focus on reality more. Coincidentally, I've been sleeping better, journaling, and becoming more mindful the past couple weeks as well. The human brain is such a mystery.

Nothing specific. I don't even remember when it started.

As a teenager I was high often, with the occasional fungal trip and it was never a thing.

And then somewhere in my mid-twenties, I noticed a point when I smoked too much, I started getting really down on myself, and then eventually realized it wasn't "me" but that voice.

I tried to ignore it. I tried different strains. No luck. I had one really bad episode after a delicious cherry pie made with weed butter by a chef friend while living in Seattle where I ended up on my couch for 8 hours catatonic in my self-hatred and despair.

Sometimes if I'm having a really good time with friends it won't bug me. Others, it's nearly debilitating. So I keep to 5mg or less in edibles, and only rarely. I miss it but it's not that big of a deal.

I worry more about my own mental health and if this is evidence of something more serious. I wish there were studies or something I could learn more from or partake in.

For simple and immediate relief you can change the voice to have a silly accent or be cartoonish and/or play ridiculous music behind it. Like Henry Mancini's "Baby Elephant Walk" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYu7c4Vkmp0

For long-term relief you're going to want to talk to a therapist, I recommend trying a bunch until you find someone that "clicks" for you and gets results. You have likely internalized some BS somewhere along the line, not too unusual on Earth really, nothing to worry about. But get it looked at sooner than later, eh? You should be able to localize the voice to particular place or places in your body that are tense and/or numb, where you have been "storing" tension or trauma in your musculo-skeletal system. Once you learned the internal auditory-linguistic feedback channel, your body started using it to get your attention. Sometimes a nice massage or hot bath is all that's needed.

I suspect I am far from the first person to suggest this, unless you’ve never talked about this before, but have you tried meditation? There’s a lot of stuff about learning to not listen to that voice, about learning to make it shut up when it’s not needed.

I so wish I could meditate. I can still my thoughts for maybe one or two minutes before thoughts intrude and that makes me angry at myself at failing and I give up. I don't think I'm supposed to feel mentally exhausted by the attempt but it is exhausting.If you've not had this problem does this sound like a complaint you've heard before that's been resolved?

Ah, but your expectation should be for thoughts to intrude. Even the greatest meditators experience this and you should expect this to be especially true for you as a beginner.

Meditation is not actually about being free from thought. The goal of meditation is actually to notice when attention wanders, thoughts come walking in and pull back to the breath. That's the muscle you're strengthening. Each time you notice an intrusive thought, is actually a moment when you're actively meditating.


The goal of meditation is not to succeed at being free of intruding thoughts. It is to practice noticing intruding thoughts and bringing your mind back to focus.

Having an intruding thought while meditating is not a failure any more than lowering a weight while exercising is a failure. You can’t lift if you don’t lower.

Have you tried thinking about how your toes feel? The point isn’t really to still your thoughts but to experience the present. Stilling your thoughts via force of will is impossible (where is the will coming from?) but fully concentrating on sensory perception to the exclusion of thinking is more possible.

You are describing a completely normal frustration with intrusive thoughts and are being entirely too self critical.

I think it's a complaint that has been resolved, and the solution is to work less hard at meditating. To me, it looks like you believe meditation is about achieving and then holding a particular mental state/feeling, and this is incorrect.

I suggest you reframe the act of "meditating" as being the moment when you become conscious of yourself being distracted, and bring your mind back to the object of meditation (the current moment/breath/mantra, etc). Think of it not like work, but more like a game you're playing. You can even tell yourself, "aha - noticed I'm thinking rather than following the breath," etc.

In other words, successful meditation is all about your mind wandering, you noticing it wandering, and you bringing it back. The more you notice the attention wandering and the faster you get at returning it to centre the more "meditating" you're doing.

Holding your mind rigid is just going to make you frustrated.

Incidentally, over time, learning to notice your attention wandering ever more quickly and bringing it back more reliably will produce new mental states. And over time your mind will wander much less often. But this is all something that's achieved indirectly. If you aim directly for the mental state you'll find it much harder if not impossible to achieve.

Meditation isn't something you can just "do" or "not do", and it's also not about suppressing thoughts either. Like any exercise, practice will improve it. You wouldn't expect to be able to run for 30 minutes solid without practice so you shouldnt hold your brain to the same standard.

Personally, I found mindfulness (Headspace) helpful and accessible, and I've found that yoga gives me the same mental stability I got from the mindfulness

Yeah, that's what it's like when you start. It's not so much about "trying to not think" as it's about "sitting there, vaguely listening to your inner voice chatter away".

Having something else to focus on can help - chant a mantra (just "om" works okay if you don't wanna look for anything more Perfect For You), count your breathing and reset the count every time your inner voice interjects something or when you get to ten, stare at something (I like just staring at the grass sometimes and watching how my visual centers start acting when they get really bored with looking at it).

A big key is to stop being angry at yourself for failing to stop that internal monologue. It's a hard thing to do! Instead of beating yourself up, just shrug, forgive yourself for doing it (maybe even say "I forgive myself for failing to quiet my inner voice" out loud, this activates different parts of your brain), and go back to whatever you're doing to focus on next-to-nothing.

If you can block out the time, I found that my meditation skills got a lot better when I stopped trying to do it for a few minutes at a time and started setting a timer for thirty minutes. Some days I can stop thinking easily. Other times I keep on fighting it for like twenty minutes. But doing it for a long stretch like that gives you more chances for your twitchy brain to get bored and STFU.

Good advice here, absolutely! Having a thought, even getting distracted by a whole chain of thought, doesn't mean you are a failure and you should stop the exercise. It takes some getting used to this idea, but repeatedly coming back to the exercise is the exercise.

It's much much less about just blanking out or how long you can maintain the focus and much much more about how you deal with all the craziness that your subconscious is doing to you. Minute by minute; each time it happens. Because it's not going to stop happening, during the exercise or not. Your mind is going to do what it wants; figuring out what you can do with that fact during the exercise then carries over to the rest of life.

I will add that it's taken me a long time to get to the point where I'm not frustrated with myself for getting distracted, so I'm not trying to say this is easy. On the contrary. But it's been worth it for me.

Judging yourself (and maybe the world) is holding you back.

For meditation purposes, try not clearing your mind but just focusing on breathing. Endlessly counting your breath from 1 to 10 can be really useful, then forgive yourself every time you get lost and just start again.

In terms of judging try thinking about this: mistakes/errors don't exist, they are only a meaning we as humans have given to stuff that we dislike. In any situation, try figuring out how that situation is perfect for you at that moment, how could you have chosen that situation/moment ahead of time on purpose? It's not easy, but it's simple. How is everything in your life just perfect right now?

Meditation takes practice and you've got to learn to forgive yourself for having your mind veer away. It's part of the process. Nobody expects to sit there without having them, not even those that have practiced meditation for decades.

It's not about shutting those thoughts up at all. It's about recognizing those thoughts as they begin to enter your mind and using the meditation as a tool to either embrace those thoughts (sometimes we need to) but recognizing they likely aren't our reality and are likely just thoughts from past experiences or future expectations. It's your reaction to those thoughts that is really important and a lot of us who don't meditate tend to ruminate on things that we know aren't beneficial to us. It helps you learn to control that better.

I'd recommend following guided meditations, I specifically enjoy metta (kindness) meditation. Your instructor will occasionally tell you to allow those thoughts in so that you can get better at recognizing them as what they are, just thoughts, not something you have to act upon or believe. Then they'll typically have to go back to focusing on your breath which will make those thoughts disappear, even if only for a short time.

It takes practice. Don't fault yourself for not being a meditation guru. Nobody is. Just be kind and accepting to yourself as it happens. There's no rush. Some of my meditation sessions are much worse than others, just like my workouts.

After a month of daily meditation (which I'm unfortunately not doing lately) I become such a calm person. I still get that twinge of anger when someone cuts me off or traffics bad but I notice it as soon as it starts to enter my mind and I can control my output FAR better. Usually I just go "oh, that happened, it's out of my control, what I can control is my reaction to it."

Same as any other skill, like drawing, or physical feat, and the progression is much slower than most IMHO. It always feels like you are getting nowhere, but at some point, you'll marvel at how far you've come.

That said, also be aware that meditation isn't the panacea that it's often made out to be. It certainly sounds like it's what you are looking for at this moment, particularly since you mention that you 'can't meditate'.

Rather than get angry when your thoughts intrude, be proud of your brain for noticing these intrusive thoughts then redirect your attention back to your meditation.

Pride is a hindrance to meditation as much as anger. Notice the thoughts and move on.

I can compare doing zazen meditation to physical exercise, but, in this case you are training your mind.

It's very hard at the beginning, but if you persevere, you'll eventually get there.

Just remember the first time you were doing push-ups. It's like that. Like doing push-ups with your mind. Very hard at the start, feels great after you get used to it.

Don't try to stop the thoughts, just sit and breath and the thoughts will do what they do. To paraphrase alan watts, trying to stop thoughts is like trying to smooth out the ripples in a pond with your hands.

You can't fail at meditating.

Just sit.

"thoughts intrude"

Just sit.

"angry at myself"

Just sit.

"I give up"

Just sit.


Just sit.

meditation isnt about turning off your mind, its learning how to manage the flow of thoughts/feelings

training the mind to go to that place of calm management, and eventually being able to not quite turn off the unwanted thoughts but to shift the inner monologue

I wholeheartedly recommend the Waking Up meditation app by Sam Harris.

I’m not saying it will help, but not all approaches to meditation get the same result and this one might really address what you are experiencing.

> I can still my thoughts for maybe one or two minutes before thoughts intrude and that makes me angry at myself at failing and I give up.

I recommend reading the book "Don't Shoot the Dog". It is about conditioning, but despite the book's name, most of the information applies to humans, too. It explains the details that matter, and how most people who try to use conditioning actually do it completely wrong.

One important insight is that using punishment to condition yourself almost always backfires. The reason is quite simple: every time you punish yourself for doing X, you are simultaneously conditioning yourself against two things: (1) doing X, and (2) noticing that you are doing X. If X is a bad habit, guess which one of these two things will be extinguished by conditioning first. And most people are already quite bad as self-understanding.

Therefore, perhaps the most important rule in meditation is to never punish yourself. (However, also don't punish yourself for breaking this rule. That would only mean breaking the rule twice.) Every time you punish yourself for "meditating incorrectly", you are going against what you are supposed to achieve by mediation. You are discouraging insight (to have made an error, that is a useful insight), and even discouraging meditation itself (the less you meditate, the fewer errors in meditation you can make).

In traditional Buddhist countries, beginners start with the loving-kindness meditation, and only later move to concentration exercises. Which is probably designed to avoid negative thoughts while practicing concentration. But many people in the West are likely to go straight to the concentration exercises, because they are looking forwards to increasing their productivity, and ignoring the loving-kindness meditation, because that's some stuff for hippies. And then they happily go and tell others to do the same. (Or course, a hippie who would only do the loving-kindness and never move on to concentration, would also be doing it wrong.)

The proper mindset for concentration meditation is unconditional self-love. You do it right, that's great! You do it wrong, hey, it's great that you noticed, and it's great that you keep trying regardless! Self-awareness and perseverance are wonderful traits, why would you ever punish yourself for having them?

Now the important thing is that you need to do this sincerely, not ironically (like, "I am such a loser, oh, good job noticing that, loser"). Self-deception would be the opposite of what you want to achieve. When I write that being self-aware (even of making mistakes) is preferable to not being self-aware (but making the same mistakes regardless), I totally mean it. But this attitude can be difficult to adopt, if you are not accustomed to having love expressed towards you (by others or by yourself). In that case, doing the loving-kindness meditation might help to overcome this obstacle.

I suppose that if you do meditation without punishing yourself, you will feel less exhausted. (Unless there are other reason, e.g. you were already exhausted, and mediation only helped you notice that better.)

tl;dr - to succeed at meditation, not being angry at yourself is more important than stopping your thoughts; you may want to train this skill separately

I'm having a bit of a hard time relating to the notion of a "voice in my head" being "vicious". I tend to think by "talking" to myself in my head, but it's more to formulate my thoughts in a format that is easier to examine. Sometimes it takes the form of a dialogue where I go through a conversation with opposing viewpoints. There's not really what I'd call a "voice" though, it's more like just the impression of words.

What I've noticed is that sometimes what I think "aloud" has little relation to what I actually do. I might acknowledge in my head that it would be logical or beneficial to take a certain action, but that very rarely translates into any increased motivation or desire to take that action.

Verbal thinking could be good, but there is a danger to become over-analytical of your own thinking. Have you tried writing more notes? Sometimes good ideas can be rediscovered when the time suits it best.

Taking action involves your pre-motor cortex hence why being involved in sports, competitions on the think/do level is so beneficial, specially if it's done from younger ages.

The first thing to be cognizant of is that there isn't only one voice. And just because it comes from your mind doesn't mean that any of the voices are you.

The way that I view it, the brain is a cluster of neurons, but as you start to teach them to talk, sub-clusters start to talk. I view them as representatives in my mental congress (FWIW, I refer to myself as We when I discuss internally). Not all of these sub-clusters will agree, not all of them will be nice and most importantly none of them are you. You are the aggregate of them all.

The congress of your mind is not any of its representatives, and none of the representatives are the congress. Additionally, none of the representatives are smarter than the congress and the congress is not as smart as the smartest representative. The collective is more than the sum of its parts.

Every one has many parts of their mind that are toxic. Likewise there are many parts of your mind that are loving and generous. Those divergent sub-clusters of neurons don't get along and rarely agree. Like with good communication amongst people, the hard part is respecting those parts of your mind (even loving them as you might a toxic family member), allowing them to say their piece, acknowledging them without agreeing, and moving past their thought to more productive topics / view-points.

There are also parts of your mind that are not toxic, but they are negative. Its not always clear if negative leads to toxic or leads to benefit. For these, its helps a lot to reflect on their intention. For example, have you ever looked off a cliff or a tall building and "seen yourself falling"[1]? It can be easy to interpret that as being suicidal, however, digging deeper, while negative at first the intention is to save your life.

Allowing that thought to play out, you first feel the air, the cold rushing around you, eventually you get too close to the floor, or hit the floor, and the thought breaks. If you let it happen a few times, generally you'll find yourself still wanting the rush but find a better way to land. Can I hit the tree and live? Can I grab the power cables? What if I did a really cool roll? Eventually the pathways all converge and you always go splat. Then that part of your mind quiets, and it is clear to see the intention was to save you. And if you ever find yourself playing out a thought a few times and its generally toxic, flag it and apply the strategy for toxic instead.

I hope that was less of a ramble and ideally helpful.

[1] For the record this is very human, a lot of my very healthy friends and I all have this reaction, and it is not something to worry about at all.

>But it comes with the side effect of gaining a voice in your head. And that voice is a fucking vicious asshole to me. In the recent years the thoughts even started subvocalizing and I have to forcefully remember to make it stop. It's super embarrassing when there are other people around you.

Holy shit I have never heard anyone talk about this before on the internet or anywhere. I have this as well. It started for me in around 2013. Before then I had never thought in words, and I used to read solely visually. At that time for some reason I thought it would be a better idea to try to develop an internal monologue and try to talk my way through things.

I don't think it's really helped me in any way honestly. There are some problems at work that I find a bit easier to talk my way through in this sense but it's outweighed by how much more I ruminate now that I have this voice in my head. I also think I read more slowly now because I subvocalize. I think I have OCD because I cannot stop myself from subvocalizing, and if I try to stop I keep focusing on it in the back of my mind.

The only thing that's helped me were mild anti-psychotics that a therapist prescribed me a while ago that came with their own side effects. I have also seen a bit of change from trying very very hard to enact CBT-like practices on myself but it's slow going.

I've had this problem. And like a few problems in life, this was paradoxically solved during recovery from a particularly bad concussion.

I'm not always good at self care, for example. This is a particular weakness that the Vicious Critic would exploit. One night, as I was laid up, incapable of doing pretty much anything, VC comes online and starts ripping me for failing to cook for myself and relying on delivery. A second voice came online... my angel (I don't mean this in a religious sense; this is a normal phenomenon among people who hear voices). "HEY! Be nice to klyrs!" And then their attention turned away from VC, and towards me. "I'm so sorry; you don't deserve that..." and proceeded to talk me through obtaining dinner in a kind and gentle manner. I thanked the voice for their care, and didn't hear from VC for quite a time.

After that incident, VC would still come back from time to time. The angel hasn't come back unbidden, but I can summon the voice to combat VC.

I understand that this process is taught through CBT or DBT. Long live DIY, I guess. But know that there's help available.

> But I am certain in my case when the voices started and I am not sure the superpower problem solving skills are worth the trade.

There appears to be a dichotomy among societies in the world. Ones where people who hear voices are considered gifted, and ones where they are considered ill. In the gifted societies, the voices are generally good and helpful like my angel. In the ill societies, the voices are generally malevolent like my VC.

You have a gift. But aspects of it have run amok. Ask your voice to be a part of the solution, and stop attacking you. Demand a respectful tone, and shut it out when it behaves poorly. Progress with your voice will neither be easy nor monotonic, but it is possible.

That voice is you, so perhaps you should have an honest chat with yourself on where the inner conflict really is? What are you expectations of yourself and are they realistic? What could you do differently to make yourself more pleased? Try to make a plan and some actionable steps, and perhaps your asshole alter ego might start to be less critical... just shutting down the voice will not necessarily make the feeling go away, and it will probably find another way to resurface, and that one could be more damaging and harder to understand..

It’s definitely not unique to you. Something that helped me was to not try quiet the voice but to counter all of its automatic negativity with realistic, positive counter-thoughts. It took about six months of intense practice, but now the voice is mostly supportive.

> But it comes with the side effect of gaining a voice in your head. And that voice is a fucking vicious asshole to me. In the recent years the thoughts even started subvocalizing and I have to forcefully remember to make it stop.

I don't know your exact situation, but perhaps you should just let the voice do its thing?

Just make sure it doesn't stop halfway through. I mean, if it wants to be a critical asshole that picks apart every little thing you think about, awesome! Because it, too, is something that you're thinking about, and presumably it ought to pick itself apart with the same ferocity.

I mean, if your inner critic isn't critiquing its own criticisms, then that sounds like it's not being critical enough.


To add, this problem is intrinsic to governments, where checks-and-balances are needed. For example, we can't have a government or police force that's beyond scrutiny; if anything, a government/police-force must be harsher and more unforgiving of itself than of the population it governs/polices.

Likewise, your inner critic has to be harsh with itself. It has to critique itself for what it does, including the costs it imposes on you in terms of taking your time-and-energy, much as a government must regulate its own budget to remain sustainable.

And if it's starting to screw up your life, and its existence is making stuff worse for you, then that's empirical proof that it's messing up. That it needs to get more aggressive at critiquing whatever it's doing wrong that makes your life worse.

It's not unique to you.

Can confirm. That voice gets really annoying at times.

The ideal in life should be to tame that stream of harsh criticism into witty, offhand commentary worthy of MST3K.

> And that voice is a fucking vicious asshole to me.

I have it. I call him: the observer. You are right, the observer is a giant asshole, almost by definition, in that's his precise purpose. (though there have been a few rare moments of compassion from him)

You are right that it is entirely a mental model, and not an involuntary part of me. But, I voluntarily rely on the model enough, that without it I don't function as effectively.

In my case, there are 3 people in my mental model of self. The doer, the thinker and the observer. The doer is simply my place-holder for impulse control and ability to convert ideas to practice, with the thinker being what I most closely associate with myself.

The observer is really helpful. It helps me see some blind spots in my own judgement and has made me pretty good at figuring out how others will respond to situations. But, I really do need to make him shut up, in situations where I need to be taking initiative or be bold.

It is not problematic for me, as I don't think it manifests physically in front of others (it's different when I am alone), but it has played a huge role in making me capable of gaining holistic views of things. I'd rather have it than not.

The observer could be a bit kinder though.

It's really curious to me to hear someone not only describe their inner voice in such a negative way but also to have gained that voice later in life. Like many, I'm an almost entirely verbal thinker so the voice is non stop and has been with me since day one. The only thing that stops it is to listen to other voices, which is why I listen to podcasts and audiobooks to fall asleep (and it works super well) :-D

rapind's experience parallels yours.

"That voice is a fucking vicious asshole to me"

Oh my god yes. Because it knows all of your weaknesses and where it hurts and goddamn bastard always is ready to point out the flaws you make, rather than the good stuff.

I often think myself is my biggest enemy.

You're also your biggest supporter, you likely just notice the positive things you do for yourself less than the negative. Try to focus on the good that you do day to day. :)

vicious asshole to me

What does that mean? Is it too annoying as a phenomenon, or does it confront/criticize you?

I don’t think I have an audial voice in my head, but when I think, something like silent voice tries to build itself there. It actually doesn’t help, only slows me down x10. Best productivity comes with the flow state for me (it also destroys my social abilities, but f* them anyway).

I took it to mean that the voice is hyper-critcal. It's also the thing that means something that works isn't good enough until it is perfect/elegant/efficient even though the end user would be satisfied. It's also probably pretty judgemental on menial problems, like "only a friggin moron would make that mistake", or "how dumb do you feel for taking 3 hours to debug that stupid issue"? Mine uses much more colorful language. Mine loves to make fun of me when I reverse the angle of a miter cut, and then have to cut from new stock because the corrective cut would make the piece too short. Most co-workers have come to realize I'm only cursing at myself, but it's much more embarrassing when I do the "I'm invincible" line from Golden Eye: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXW02XmBGQw

Ever heard of Tulpas? That would be an even more extreme version: https://tulpa.io/about

I read some local reports on visualizing them instead of just body-sharing. Idk if it is true and/or healthy, but it would be funny if something watched you from the corner guarding your sleep once lights are out.

I have one (but it was much more active when I was younger) and I found it very useful to go through reasonings. However mine is not critical of me, it stops at pointing logical flaws in my reasonning (as others said, it might be a matter of self esteem).

Speaking with people who write, I found that roughly half of them can have a litteral chat with their caracters in their head, me included, I would not be surprised if it were correlated (people who cannot where chocked that it could be possible).

You just need another voice in your head that thanks that vicious asshole for sharing, tells it to STFU, jokes with it, etc, etc, etc.

I talk to myself a lot. And swear at myself a lot. But it's all in good fun, and occasionally some insight pops up.

Also, given my privacy hobby, I end up talking about myself in the third person. But only in the vaguest terms.

I always did this, without someone recommending me to do it. I don't know how it started, maybe a weird way of having imaginary friends.The problem is that I have 2 voices in my head that speak with each other, one explains the positive points about a decision the other the negative ones, and they discuss until they both agree

This is pretty normal, and majority of people experience life that way.

I remember first reading about this in "the power of now", which describes this alter ego as a protection mechanism as well, like that little voice will always come up with reasons why not to do something.

How do you know the majority experience life that way?

Experiencing life that way will make it easier to write a book, so it would be a mistake to rely on book authors as the sample set. Also, "quiet" minds might have adopted the vocabulary and phrasing "noisy" minds never suspecting that the language they have adopted was meant literally, not metaphorically.

I have a quiet mind. It is rare that any part of mind is forming sentences or phrases unless I am trying to communicate in writing or in speech. This is true even when I am coding or debugging with the exception that I will slowly repeat the name of a variable or function to myself as an aid to short-term memory.

I write more than most people do; most of what I write is not intended to be read by anybody but me.

About 25 years ago, in my 30s, I stopped being able reliably to remember what item I came for when I leave one room of my apartment to get something in a different room. After a few years of putting up with the unreliability, I started a habit of choosing one or two words to describe the item I am after, then repeating the word or words slowly till the item is in my hand.

In my 20s, I would spend a lot of my alone time going over recent conversations. In particular, if someone said something aggressive or unfair to me, I would spend a lot of brain time coming up with comebacks or words I wish I had said in reply. Then I noticed that I have no need or desire to keep on talking to people who are so quick to jump to conclusions about me that it is important for me to get quicker with my comebacks and replys, so I stopped putting brain time into that skill.

There have been books written about these topics 100s of years ago, so that's why it's pretty well known.

Some describe that there are two voices, first is the thinker, second the proofer. The thinker thinks, the proofer proofs. But that's a very specific description.

What might be the difference is that some physically articulate and form words, whereas others keep it to their minds and thoughts, and many try to silence it entirely.

The book Siddhartha also gives this an interesting spin, although that's a novel.

I’ve noticed talking in the third person in my head in an intentionally benevolent, compassionate and grateful tone makes the inner voice ‘default setting’ way more benevolent. But it takes an effort of intentional compassion, and that’s not always easy.

My voice is only sometimes vicious.

The problem of talking to myself outloud ... not a problem! Turn on the camera and call it livecoding.

At work I use a notebook to write down my voice so it has an outlet. We apparently talk to each other in first person plural.

If you are still looking for something to help with this I recommend you look into zazen meditation.

Have a look at the book: Zen mind, beginners mind. It was one of the best things I discovered for myself. Hope you'll find it useful.

Being fatalist and too harsh on yourself needn't have anything to do with actually talking to yourself in the 3rd person. Echoing the idea from an other user that CBT helps with this.

The only issue I have with the voice in my head is that it makes me read slowly, because I have to imagine the sound of the word instead of its meaning only.

This was the actual advice I was given when proof-reading text I had written. Reading it in your head allows your brain to auto-correct issues in the text. Reading it out loud is supposed to slow you down to "disable" the auto-correct. It's not perfect, but I definitely found and could correct more of my mistakes before submitting the text.

I stopped reading novels for a long time because of this. Focused on the voice reading the audio of the words, while ingesting little of the content's meaning.

I've intentionally practiced reading aloud lately to counter it. (only sometimes, generally with someone else to read to; it helps)

I can actually read in both modes: With a voice in my head, complete with sound and intonation (nice for poetry), and without the voice, which is much faster.

I guess one can train yourself to "switch", e.g. by focusing on the next word faster than the voice can follow.

I read one of the Star Trek novels and when I came to dialog my brain automatically read it in the actors' voices! It pleasantly surprised me.

here is my story, because it feels really relevant to this subject:

I used to think this way, it was very hard to study or go deep into abstract concepts for long periods, but it is useful to some extend, I was able to get a "decent life as an responsable adult" with this system in my head. you ended learning anything you studied, but I felt uncomfortable, uneasy,tired all the time, full of anxiety in social events of any kind, to the point I got into a deep frustration and depression that leaded to unemployment twice in my life. all because of my internal voice, it can get very uncontrollable, it fools you in to thinking that this voice is the only resource you have in your mind. that the voice is you.

unemployed, with a lot of time in my hand, I started to learn math, specifically,I got into category theory thanks functional programming. the subject just fascinated me. I started a really hard journey ,I got really deep into that rabbit hole, all of this ,with my anxiety at full and my brain in complete chaos. but I continued, even when I couldn't grasp any of the concept explained in the articles and books I read. I just continued mindlessly like a zombie, and at some point I really thought that I was losing my mind. suddenly, one day, watching a video on YouTube about philosophy, I heard the expansion of the famous phrase, cogito, ergo zoom. and everything , from one moment to the next, started to make sense, things like monads, functors, implications of Cartesian products, etc.. were concepts that I could handle naturally, I was being overloaded with new knowledge that seemed to came from nowhere. it was the most exciting feeling I had in my life. I started to see everything different. the reflection of the tangible world in my mind was changed forever.

now, I just try to transform everything, every interaction, memory or concept to a category theory diagram in my head. my mental model was altered when I discovered that everything can abstracted to dots and arrows moving around and "zoomed" in and out if you filter the unnecessary noise that comes from your senses and your own brain, which is a lot. once you find a simple system to do that mechanically , it starts to be something like blinking or breathe. you are focused with clear mind, all the time, from the first thoughts in morning to the last one before sleep, is such a fantastic feeling. I started to be very aware of this just few days ago and it feels like magic, I can't control it in full but I truly think I'm someone new.

Wait, you didn't have an internal monologue until somebody told you it would help? That is really weird.

I'd give anything to turn mine off.

This reminds me of a tulpa.

You've got a voice? Man, that's awesome. I've got half a dozen assholes all screaming what they want. It's really hard to get anything done this way.

That's really interesting, because I dealt with a hyperactive inner monologue until adulthood. I still do to an extent, but I think it has become much less pathological.

Hearing a voice that may be mean to you sometimes is pretty normal. Does it prompt you for answers and you respond? I usually vocalize both sides of the conversation.

You’ve described myself from early teenager to adult perfectly. What you wrote fully resonates with me. Take care of yourself.

Sounds like ocd

I have similar issues. To the point that I wonder about adult-onset Tourette’s.


Does the GP's internal voice have its own HN account?

This example came to my mind:

"I can't get involved in it, you know. One thing I didn't want to do was make an emotional decision and I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James", LeBron James talking about himself in third person, https://youtu.be/yrd9T-hny84?t=14

What's weird about that is that it mixes first and third person; it sounds like "I" is supposed to be someone different from LeBron James", which makes it sound really strange to me.

I think it actually perfectly describes what he was trying to communicate, and I've seen this construction a few times before. He's saying that he had to think of himself as a third party and consider the wellbeing of 'that person' in order to make a rational decision... sort of a corollary to the article's point.

I would say that in practice LeBron James (celebrity) is effectively a separate entity from LeBron James (human), with overlapping but distinct goals and interests. LeBron may be the "CEO" of and largest stakeholder in the celebrity entity, but the final product presented to the world (basketball games, interviews, social media, movies, video games, trading cards, etc.) is going to be an amalgamation of numerous people's contributions.

In this sense, it's worthwhile for him to make a distinction between the celebrity entity's image/profitablity and his own personal happiness, as well as a distinction between his own personal thoughts/actions and those of the collective "LeBron James" celebrity.

This idea isn't specific to celebrities (except insofar as most people would be smaller operations or "sole proprietorships"); one's mind and the legal entity of one's self are clearly different things — the latter of which may incorporate contributions by accountants, lawyers, relatives with power of attorney, etc. At a more basic level, anyone can at least make a distinction between itself and its body's interactions with the rest of the world.

Thanks for this description. It made the mental shift easier to empathize with. Individuals do constitute so many external and internal influences. It seems it could be helpful to think of each expression of our selves as a product, or a plant, that we have the power to consciously cultivate.

Really? Feels too close to cultivating schizophrenia. Why not keeping youself as "I" in inner dialogue, add "what the fuck did I just do?" or "what would somebody else think in their head?" questions more often if you think you're not objective. If you really want to put yourself in somebody's shoes, why not do it temporarily and run the dialogue as I=them? I think changing your inner dialogue to 3rd person can have further reaching negaitve consequences. I haven't run any study to confirm it, it's just a feeling, but arguably they haven't as well because 4 week test with single culmination test won't find any issues after a year or two, what if it increases negative schisophrenic-like behaviour tenfold?

> "what the fuck did I just do?"

Made me think of the perceived difference between an I, a You and a We in this context. Try it.

If someone asks you what your stance or beliefs are on a subject, doesn't explaining "I think..." or "It seems to me..." put you through something emotionally? Now try third-person, isn't "Joe doesn't like that kind of thing" actually feel different to say? Isn't it less emotionally taxing, easier to get through?

How about "what's next for us, Self?", better/easier than "how do I feel? What am I up to?". I think so.

Or, better yet, "/me agrees".

>Feels too close to cultivating schizophrenia.

It seems like you don't really have an idea of what schizophrenia is and how it affects people who struggle with it.

This advice is for healthy people who are already self conscious enough to question their actions by reason. If someone is smoking weed and gets on the edge of schizo, he should probably stop smoking first and get his life in order. If someone is on edge of schizo for other reasons, he also has more important things to care for.

When someone has hers life in order, she can go with next step which is tweaking inner dialogue.

I usually use the first person plural, in textbook/journal style, ie "we". You can pretend you're teaching a student sat next to you - eg if you're rubber ducking code. But even if I'm pair programming or in a review I'd probably revert to we rather than I.

Also good practice for whiteboarding, giving presentations, basically any situation where you need to explain yourself to others.

It also makes you sound important


I R baboony.

Good comedian's do this too. They might tell a funny story (that they were involved in) from a 3rd person perspective. This allows them to approach a situation from multiple people's perspectives.

It makes for good comedy because it show's how each character's view/opinion could be misconstrued and humorous depending on their context, prior knowledge and stereotypes...

I wonder if this is a reason people find prayer so meaningful, aside from any metaphysical/supernatural beliefs. Though I've left organized religion and am probably some sort of agnostic theist, I still occasionally pray. I don't ask for outcomes anymore, as it's pretty clear to me that tragedy and fortune visit the pious and impious all the same. Yet, it brings me some comfort and clarity to externalize my hopes, fears, and joys, all the same. Perhaps our rich, egoistic inner life as humans is really useful for the steady-state of the systems we've invented for ourselves, but unsuited for navigating disruptions. For that, we created mechanisms to dissolve our fragile egos and externalize our thinking.

To be fair, speaking to yourself is the second person; speaking about yourself is the third person.

I disagree - the audience of one's speech doesn't necessarily dictate point of view.

I can tell myself "I can do it!", "You need to settle down", and "solumos needs to remember to lock the back door" without breaking any rules.

I'd wager the only reason they phrased the headline that way is because "speaking about yourself" implies speaking to others, and if they were to clarify by saying "speaking about yourself, to yourself," that seems wordy and redundant, so the best solution ended up being just "speaking to yourself."

Do many people speak to themself in the third person? It seems kind of odd in my opinion since we usually think of people that speak about themselves in the third person as being self absorbed, eccentric, or both. I do often take on the role of a third party in my own thoughts. For example, if I am fixing something on my house and not 100% sure of the results. It may seem ok to me or my wife, but then I think of the previous owner (a very meticulous person named Tim) and think “what would Tim have to say about this”. Then I proceed to scrutinize things from their perspective. It’s not really the same thing, but I think it serves a similar purpose and doesn’t seem so internally awkward.

Given that I find it natural to use second person (singular) pronoun for the "voice" in my head, I find it weird that only second and third person pronoun (sigular) were part of the research.

What's the difference between second person singular and plural? I thought they were both "you"?

I find I tend to slip between first person singular and plural depending on what I'm doing. In particular, I always comment my code in first person plural because it's a conversation I'm having with whoever reads the code.

> What's the difference between second person singular and plural? I thought they were both "you"?

Didn't think about it while writing that comment, but my main language is Hebrew, which makes this distinction in second person.

I did wonder if it'd be something like that. I learned something new today! :)

> In a series of laboratory experiments

Every single result in the social sciences ought to be considered false until independently reproduced. There have been far too many failed replications lately to take studies at face value, even when these studies are published in prestigious journals. You should apply this skepticism even more assiduously in cases where some study claims that one weird trick makes you a better person.

No. Stop it already. Stop believing p-hacked nonsense. If it hasn't been reproduced independently, it's a fairy tale.

I agree with your sentiment. If the cost is minimal, and the potential gains large, is it not worthwhile to try out for yourself?

Because self experimentation is very hard to blind properly and the cohort size is tiny

Russell thinks this might be a good solution for people who don't currently (or maybe ever) have a significant other or a close best friend. Normally, Russ likes to bounce ideas off his partner, but when he isn't in a relationship, it feels like he's hamstrung when making daily decisions. He's a little worried about seeming like a complete lunatic by talking to himself though - especially if he starts to talk or write like this in public.

Russell is a wise guy

Talk to yourself in the third person, but talking about yourself in the third person to others is .. creepy. (and it is. It is just .. creepy "he said")

What I was thinking exactly

Anybody read the original research ?

If so , how big was the effect ? What are the stats ?

The article mentions the "research" which, even though I think self-introspection is worthwhile, is extremely subjective and the self-measurements would influence the results. I wish social studies like these had other terms so that it wouldn't be conflated with real science.

Sure, there is subjectivity in the ways researchers operationalize the concepts that they study. That doesn't mean that their research is not "real science". If the study is of sound design and the result is replicable, it ought to be called science.

Regarding the self-measurements influencing the results: the wisdom in the participants' reasoning (the dependent variable in the focal study) was evaluated by two independent hypothesis-blind raters. This seems like a pretty solid evaluation of the participants which should be immune to anything but the manipulation the researchers employed (the diary conditions). I am not sure what self-measurement you are concerned about.

What would you classify as "real" science? Be cautious of dismissing research because it doesn't fit into your personal definition of reality.

Quantifiable, repeatable, falsifiable theory that is peer reviewed and forms a foundation for other theory. Physics is at the peak of hard science. Social science is a worthy endeavor, but it belongs in a different category.

I haven't read the entire paper, but it's here: https://psyarxiv.com/a5fgu

The main results are an interaction between Time (pre/post) and Diary condition (3rd person/1st person), t = 2.65, p = .008. They followed this up with a contrast showing that the 3rd person diary condition resulted in more wise reasoning post-intervention (as compared to pre-intervention), B = 0.130, SE = 0.028, t = 4.61, p < 0.0001. And importantly, this same improvement was not seen in the 1st person diary control group: B = 0.022, SE = 0.030, t = 0.74, p = 0.458.

They didn't provide degrees of freedom for their t-tests, but given their sample size (N=298) they're essentially z-tests anyway.

The largest difference seems to be in the "pre" condition for the training group vs everyone else. Seems weird. Anyone have an idea why that is?

When it comes to introspection or when examining yourself or working out a problem, in my view, anything that gives you some level of objective detachment can help. I can see where speaking in the 3rd person could be one approach. Other people find that journaling and reading it back helps. Still others find talking with an objective 3rd party (friend, therapist, etc.) is helpful. For me, one trick I use is to pretend that I am preparing a presentation of the problem to a group of people. I think this let's me approach the problem in a methodical and objective way.

Everyone is different so the best thing I think is to try different approaches and use what works best for you.

Robert Anton Wilson describes a process of using only the third person in speech and thought for psychological change, and IIRC he got the idea from Alestier Crowley, so the idea could be nearly a century old.

He also extolled the wisdom-widening effect of writing in E-Prime, a subset of the English language that excludes all forms of the verb 'to be': https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-Prime

Seem to always remember this because I feel it opened my eyes to how much speech can influence, but also assist you. I'm talking about Lebron James and when he was going through his decision making in 2010. To stay in Cleveland, with the hometown team who nurtured his career and it is home, or should he sign on with Miami. For him to begin making an unemotional decision, he distanced himself from the situation; at the time he was supposedly pressured from many sides.

“I wanted to do what’s best for LeBron James and to do what makes LeBron James happy.”

I consider myself an introvert, but feel-good books like quiet are pandering. Is this the same? I looked at the website. It looks like pandering next to click bait in insert your town. Look at the website. Sorry, if you talk to yourself in the third person - take advantage of it. I talk to myself in the third person constantly - don't need studies to prove that it's helpful. It definitely helps me with presentations - rehearse and rehearse. Because, I'd be considered crazy if I didnt.

During an intense Vipassana retreat I was examining how my inner personality was being projected and it suddenly fell away as unnecessary. I smiled and internally said Chris has been releived of duty. For several days I perceived my self non subjectively as a friend might see me. I observed my face in the mirror as a third person. It's hard to describe the actual physical feeling. We view ourselves through one hell of a subjective filter. It was a very calm and real experience.

I am a very poor student of mindfulness meditation. But, one of the big benefits I do recognize is practicing this strategy.

Have you ever watched someone screw up in slow motion? Where you sat back and said “Duuuuude... don’t go there!” And, it went badly exactly how you knew it would?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could practice doing that for yourself in intense situations? That’s a lot of what mindfulness meditation can be about.

“Can be” because there are a zillion variations out there depending on where you look.

I've always seen wisdom as the ability to reason well from moral axioms, whether yours or others, to normative conclusions. If reasoning from the axioms of others to normative conclusions you yourself would disagree with, you've demonstrated the ability to understand their views.

Once you're able to do that you're able to engage in the synthesis of several viewpoints to do things like conflict resolution, negotiation, leadership, etc.

People who speak about themselves in the third person on their profile feels like they have some kind of narcissistic personality.

How about speaking of oneself in the third person to others? Does this make one seem wiser? Or perhaps arrogant.

I actually misread the title to be this, and thought of all the Yoda-esque 'wise people' who do this in popular media. I think the actual post is much more interesting, though.

Generally pretentious or simply weird; but manipulative and psychopathic when it appears you're trying to come across as an impartial observer when talking yourself up.

One thing watching Thai daily soaps has taught me is that nobody in Thailand uses pronouns like "I" or "me" - everyone just refers to them in the third person by name as if there is a copy of them standing right there. I thought it was totally weird but maybe they are just wiser :)

Next time you are angry, upset, frustrated; say out loud to yourself, "Why is <your name> angry?" and "What is making <your name> angry?" Start answering those questions to yourself and I can guarantee that your anger will subside.

That's how praying works.

I think it just makes you sound like a cute anime character:


I can only agree. But I thought the reason this worked was that it assured I engaged the assistance of the brightest person in the room.

Aside: I wish I were joking.

He'd throw a fit if I did that though.

Interesting. I only talked to myself when I was depressed or when I was a child.

An exercise that has you expend extra mental energy to think about your decisions results in you making better decisions. Duh.

I doubt the specifics of the exercise (thinking about it in the 3rd person) are all that important, except inasmuch as it takes more mental energy to think of yourself in the 3rd person.

Some of the comments and responses here provide huge insights about what it's like to live with "voices" and ways that have helped manage them. This is truly great information. I'm going to bookmark it and come back later and spend some time learning.

I must be brilliant then, at least that's what the voices tell me.

Jimmy and misunderstandings kinda clash

This is incredibly useful information

It puts the lotion in the basket.

Bob Dole, the Rock- is there any evidence that this thesis isn’t intuitively correct?

Oh the irony. I always thought the people who do this were slightly insane. Guess I'm wrong.

So this is the reason I have so much gray hair in my early thirties!

Imo “learning to be wiser” is an oxymoron

Why? Wisdom comes in part from analyzing the mistakes you’ve made and finding ways to avoid them. We speak of passing down wisdom, it’s a thing that can be transferred.

In my experience, any tactic that helps in disengaging the mind from immediate passions is helpful; the mind is really good at making up justifications for things, especially when it’s passionate about something.

I think that the idea that wisdom is either innate or entirely absent is the main reason that there aren't more wise people around. (Kind of the "I was never any good at math" school of thought.) Wisdom is, and should be, a learned attribute.

In fairness, learning implies a sort of intentionality to study something. While math can be picked up with some hard work, in my experience, what a lot of people call wisdom is just reflecting on your life and what’s worked and what hasn’t.

I don't see why self-reflection can't be learned. It's a matter of building the right habits and processes to make it a natural thing for your mind.

Badly argued. -1 to WIS.

Your quote appears nowhere in the article or comments.

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